Monday, November 22, 2010

Morning Glory movie review

It was months, or maybe even years ago, that I heard Harrison Ford would be playing a morning show anchor in the movie Morning Glory. Now, I'm not only a huge fan of Harrison's, but I used to produce a 90-minute morning news show, so I've been looking forward to the movie ever since.

My husband and I saw Morning Glory Sunday afternoon. It drew a big crowd, and at least 2/3 were my age or older. I don't remember any really big reactions, like the whole theatre laughing uproariously or anything. DH laughed out loud a few times and so did I; some of my laughs definitely came out of my own experiences working with news people and on-air personalities.

Here's how the story goes: Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, the producer of "Good Morning, New Jersey." When she's called into the boss's office, she expect to be promoted to senior producer, but instead he lets her go. Relentless job hunting gets her an offer from fourth-place network IBS. They want her as executive producer of last-ranked morning show "Daybreak." Network executive Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) tells it's a next-to-impossible job, but he can't dampen her enthusiasm. She practically blackmails old-school journalist Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to co-anchor the show, and he immediately clashes with female anchor Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) as well as refusing to do most of the stories Becky asks him to handle. Ratings continue to sink, but Becky is determined to turn things around. Through sheer force-of-will, she gets the team working together, the ratings start to edge up, and she gets the job offer of her dreams. Then she has to decide if that dream job is what she really wants after all.

Overall, it was a good movie, well paced and entertaining. The acting is great. Some of the directorial or editorial choices are a little strange, but not overly annoying. The music is mostly unobtrusive, except for a few music video moments, which play out okay.

I feel like the movie fell a little short of what it could have been. The script paints Pomeroy as a stodgy and arrogant newsman who only wants to do hard news; he thinks the softer segments of a morning show are beneath him. The movie would have been stronger and more relevant if it placed his debates with Becky in a broader context. I started in news production in 1999, and I was promoted to producer in 2000. By the time I left the industry in 2007, I had seen a lot of degradation in the news biz, both locally and nationally. Sensationalism and a fancy graphics package became more important than solid reporting. Celebrity reports often seem to overshadow the day's "real news" events. If Becky's a good producer, her show would have a good mix of hard news, information, and fluff. In her drive to get the show's ratings up, she was studying the "minute to minute" ratings, which my small-town station never had. In big cities, the major ratings company, Nielsen, has hooked up boxes to the TV's of willing participants, and it generates reports showing exactly when viewers turn on a show, switch channels, or switch off the TV. A young, single-minded producer could see a spike during an interview with a hot rap star, for example, and start booking more rap stars because that's what her viewers seem to want. That could have given Becky the impetus to reject a "boring" hard news story in favor of expanded music segments, thus earning the ire of Mike Pomeroy. All the same clashes and laughs would be in place, but the story would have a little more meat on it, relevant commentary about news in the 21st century.

A few technical things that bugged me:
When I was the only producer on my morning show, I was in at 11pm to write and assemble the show. At the beginning of Morning Glory, Becky is the producer of "Good Morning, New Jersey" and she's hoping for a promotion to senior producer of the show. She sets her alarm for 1:30am, meaning she couldn't have been at work before 2:00am. I think she mentioned having a story meeting at 4:00am, which is about when my news anchors started arriving at work, but they just read over their scripts and asked me if they had any questions. When Becky is E.P. of "Daybreak," I can accept her coming in early morning, then staying after the show to book segment guests and plan the next day's show. She had producers and reporters under her who presumably would have been in earlier. If anyone's reading this who's produced a morning show and didn't have to go in to work until 2:00am or later, I'd love to hear from you about how that works.

Mike Pomeroy's first day on the job, there's an embarrassing mistake on one of the over-the-shoulder graphics. The picture changed, but the caption underneath didn't. On the systems we used, the caption was part of the picture, so that's a pretty unlikely mistake. Not to say it absolutely couldn't happen, but it's unlikely. The most astounding part, though, was that Becky - who got hammered with at least nine questions, non-stop from her crew on her first day and kept them all straight - apparently got so flustered that she couldn't remember what an over-the-shoulder graphic (AKA an insert) was called. Again, unlikely.

When Pomeroy goes out to do his big live shot on a breaking news story, it appears to be just the driver/cameraman, Pomeroy and Becky in the satellite truck. When they arrive, they all jump out of the truck, the cameraman gets his camera, and they all walk up to the front door. When I was in news, we didn't have a sat truck (the station has since gotten at least one), but setting up a regular live shot required raising the mast and tuning in the shot with master control. Sometimes they had to move the vehicle in order to aim the transmitter in the right direction to hit one of our towers. I don't think it's much different with a satellite truck. Our set-up also required cables to be run from the truck to the camera. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that wireless transmission from the camera to the truck is possible, but "Daybreak" didn't seem to have a very big budget by network standards. It would have meant having an extra cast member -- allowing a driver/sat truck operator to do the set-up while the cameraman jumped out and ran some cable while Pomeroy and Becky argued.

The script wasted a lot of time developing a relationship between Becky and Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson), who works at IBS but can't seem to understand the pressure of daily news. Becky talks about never having any long-lasting relationships because she's so career-driven, but she quickly opens up to Bennett and starts sleeping with him. When Pomeroy points out that if she focuses solely on her career, she's going to end up with nothing, we don't see her taking that to heart in her personal life. If we'd seen her with the string of dead-end dates that's referred to in the script, if she'd turned down Bennett before but finally accepted a date with him, it would show that she changed and grew. Also, it's always a little sad for me when movies portray everyone as being loose and having sex with someone as no big deal.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Morning Glory and recommend it. Some of the things that bothered me won't distract someone who's never worked in the news. Overall, it's a well-made film with a good and positive story that should appeal to young and old alike.